Q: #456. What was the mark God placed upon Cain (Gen 4:15)?
A: Let’s begin by posting this verse, and the one preceding it: (Gen 4:14-15) “Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me. (15) And the Lord said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.”
The Hebrew word used for “mark” is “owth.” Owth is translated as “mark” only in (Gen 4:15). Using the KJV Bible, it is most often translated as “sign(s)” 60 times, and also as: “miracles” (2x), “ensign(s)” (2x), and “token(s) (14x). Having said this, the Bible does not tell us what this “mark” (or “sign”) upon Cain was. This being the case, there has been plenty of conjecture.
It is interesting to look at some other uses for “owth” in the Old Testament. In (Ex 31:13,17) it is used to say that the Sabbath is a “sign” between God and Israel (also see: Ezek 20,12,20). Circumcision was a “sign” of God’s covenant with Israel (Gen 17:11). The rainbow was a “sign” (“token” – KJV) that God would never again destroy man with a flood (Gen 9:12-17). God called the sun, moon, and stars He created a “sign” (Gen 1:14). Here are a few other verses you might find interesting: (Isa 20:3)(Isa 37:7)(Ex 12:13)(Josh 2:12).
One prominent belief in the past (but not so much today) was that Cain’s “mark” was his skin being turned “black” by God. As such, this was used to justify slavery, segregation, and not allowing black people into churches (or at least not able to serve in ministry). This belief is absolute GARBAGE! Not only is there NO evidence for this, but trying to use the Bible to condone racism in some way is abhorrent. The color of one’s skin means nothing to God, and He does not show partiality. ALL men are equal to God (Acts 10:34)(Gal 3:28)(Rom 10:12)(Col 3:11)(Eph 6:9)(1 Cor 12:13)(Gal 2:6).
Here are a few of the other “guesses” I have run across for what the “mark” was: a tattoo (perhaps with God’s name), a dog (to protect Cain), a scar, leprosy, horns, or a brightly colored coat. The Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, which most times I find pretty solid, says “This sign is thought by the best writers to have been a wild ferocity of aspect that rendered him an object of universal horror and avoidance.” I am not sure who the “best writers” are, or how they came to this conclusion, but I am not with them on it.
Now, since everyone else has their guesses, let me throw out what I find the most intriguing. In (Ezek 9:4-7), we find God telling a “man clothed in linen” to place a mark on the foreheads of those who remained faithful to Him. Those with the mark were protected by God from destruction. (Note: The Hebrew word for “mark” in these verses is “tav,” which is the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and is like a “t” in shape.) Similar to this, in (Rev 7:2-4), we see 144,000 “servants of our God (sealed) in their foreheads.” In (Rev 14:1), we see that this seal is having the “Father’s name written in their foreheads.” These 144,000 will receive God’s protection.
In addition, we have what is often called “The Mark Of The Beast,” which is a seal for those who will follow the Antichrist and the false prophet. This “seal” will be “a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads” (See: Rev 13:16-17, 14:9,11, 16:2, 19:20, 20:4). (It should be noted that Satan attempts to counterfeit numerous things of God. Examples here). Those who receive this “mark” are identified as belonging to the Antichrist.
Finally, while perhaps not quite as significant, it is interesting to note that in these four verses (Deut 6:8)(Deut 11:18)(Ex 13:9,16) God tells the Israelites to “bind” His commandments “as a sign (owth) on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.” Later, we see them taking this commandment literally (rather than figuratively), with many male Israelites tying what were called “phylactries” (see: Mt 23:5) (small, square leather boxes containing 4 verses from the Torah) to their hands and foreheads with strips of leather.
In light of these verses, could the “mark” placed upon Cain have been some kind of mark on his forehead, symbolizing that Cain belonged to God, and had his protection? (Just a guess.)
***Related: Where did Cain get his wife?